Mary Jo Festle honored with Daniels-Danieley Award
A longtime history professor who "demonstrates a true passion for the subject and really cares about her students," Mary Jo Festle is the 2011 recipient of the Daniels-Danieley Award for Excellence in Teaching.
“Her dedication to providing students with the best possible experience in the classroom is legendary in our department,” says a fellow history professor. “She approaches teaching with a dedication and an organization that I find to be inspiring.”
Festle is the 39th Elon faculty member to receive the award, established by President Emeritus J. Earl Danieley ’46 and his wife, Verona Daniels Danieley, in honor of their parents.
A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Knox College, where she studied social change as an interdisciplinary independent major, Festle earned master’s and doctoral degrees in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research interests include oral history methodology, medical history and the history of disability.
Her students describe her as a charismatic professor who shows enthusiasm for the subjects she teaches, provides useful feedback, pushes them to think critically and, above all, is interested in their personal and professional success.
“Dr. Festle is not only a great teacher in the classroom, but also a supportive mentor for her students as they face obstacles outside of class,” a former student says. “I hit some bumps in the road this past fall and Dr. Festle was a source of stability for me.”
Students also praise her ability to make history understandable, fun and enjoyable, so much so that even at eight o’clock in the morning students feel motivated to learn and look forward to class.
“Her classes were always very interactive and very interesting, to the point where a student couldn't just sit down and listen to the conversation,” a former student says. During her classes, “the conversations and learning process are so interesting that students need to get involved and put in their own opinions.”
Says a fellow history professor, “(Festle) meets students where they are and challenges them to make the leap to studying history at a more advanced level. She forces them to question their own assumptions and engage in research that they would not have anticipated for themselves.
Her colleagues also praise her commitment to the intellectual and personal growth of her students and her meticulous planning and preparation for each class.
“I have never seen anyone else approach their teaching in such a methodical and diligent fashion,” a colleague says. “(Festle) records how many students participated during the class period, the tone of the class and other information, and then compares responses from the same course across different semesters and years.”
Festle received the 2004 Elon College Excellence in Teaching Award and the university’s first Senior Faculty Research Fellowship (2008-10). Since joining Elon’s faculty in 1993, she has had a book on women in athletics and several articles published. She is currently completing a book-length manuscript on the history of lung transplants, a topic a colleague says is personal for Festle, who has lost loved ones to cystic fibrosis.
“She takes her research into her work with students, and hence they are able to see a scholar in action,” a colleague says. “She understands the process of sifting through primary source documents and formulating a thread of understanding that emerges as an article or a book, and students admire and trust her as she guides them through this process.”
Festle’s leadership goes beyond the classroom. In the past, she has directed the Honors Program, chaired the search committee for the dean of Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences, and served as coordinator of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program. She currently chairs the pedagogy and curriculum subcommittee of the Presidential Diversity Council and was recently named associate director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning.
“The changes that she has effected both in the lives of our students and in the institution itself run strong and deep,” a colleague says.